Skip to content
Massachusetts Eye and Ear
/assets/MEE/svg/default.svg

Ophthalmology

Glaucoma

Phone number forEye Care Appointments

Overview

Glaucoma is a group of disorders that damage the eye’s optic nerve, resulting in vision loss or blindness. In most cases, the nerve damage is caused by increased pressure inside the eye.

In healthy eyes, a fluid known as aqueous humor is continually produced and drained. However, if the drainage canals do not work correctly, the fluid can build up in the eye, causing elevated eye pressure. While glaucoma is more common at high eye pressures, it can also happen when eye pressures are low.

In glaucoma, nerve fibers of the optic nerve are destroyed, leading to vision loss. Glaucoma typically gets worse slowly, over years, but those with very high eye pressures can lose vision quickly. Glaucoma is progressive, and if untreated, can lead to substantial vision loss and even blindness.

At present, vision loss from glaucoma cannot be restored. Therefore, prompt diagnosis and careful monitoring is essential.

Forms of Glaucoma

Symptoms

In most cases, glaucoma develops slowly. There may be no symptoms for many years because central visual acuity is maintained until late in the disease. Early signs of glaucoma include cloudy vision, as well as difficulty seeing when there are changes in lighting. In the advanced stage of the disease, blind spots may be noticed.

Without proper treatment, glaucoma can lead to blindness. Because glaucoma usually has no symptoms until late in the disease, it is important to have routine eye evaluations. Regular eye exams, early detection, and treatment, can prevent vision loss from glaucoma.

Potential Causes and Risk Factors

The exact cause of optic nerve damage from glaucoma is still unclear. Although glaucoma is much more common in older adults, it can develop at any age.

You may have an increased risk for having glaucoma if you:

  • Are older than 60 years (rates increase after the age of 60 and are fairly high in older people)
  • Have a first-degree relative with glaucoma
  • Are of African or Hispanic descent (higher risk of open-angle glaucoma)
  • Are of Asian descent (higher risk of angle-closure)
  • Have a history of a major eye injury
  • Have had multiple eye surgeries for chronic eye conditions
  • Are highly near-sighted or far-sighted

Diagnosis

During a glaucoma exam, your ophthalmologist will:

  • Take your medical and family histories
  • Measure your eye pressure
  • Inspect your eye’s drainage angle
  • Examine your optic nerve for damage
  • Test your side vision using a “visual field” testing machine
  • Take a picture or computer measurement of your optic nerve
  • Measure the thickness of your cornea

Genetic testing may be recommended if you or a family member develop the disease before age 50. Among its many benefits, genetic testing can be used to diagnose disease, improve the accuracy of a patient’s prognosis, identify gene mutations that could be passed on to children, and help guide genetic counseling.

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to slow or stop the progression of vision loss. Depending on many factors, such as your age and the type and severity of your glaucoma, treatment may include medications and/or surgery. Learn more about our Glaucoma Service


Meet Our Team

Board-certified and specialty trained in glaucoma, our physicians are well-equipped to treat the full spectrum of glaucoma disorders, including complex conditions like keratoprosthesis-related glaucoma.